Lott, GOP's No. 2, will leave Senate early

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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Trent Lott, a 35-year Capitol Hill veteran who staged a political comeback after losing his Senate leadership post because of racially insensitive remarks, plans to resign from office before the year is out.

With his decision, the Senate's No. 2 Republican will avoid a new ethics rule that takes effect by the end of the year, allowing him to pursue a lucrative lobbying job after a year's wait rather than after two years.

The Mississippi senator is the latest veteran Republican lawmaker to announce plans to depart Congress after the party lost its majority to Democrats in the 2006 election. Former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert resigned last night.

"One of the things that troubles me now is the great difficulty in passing needed legislation," Mr. Lott said yesterday in Pascagoula, Miss. Mr. Lott, who only last year won re-election, said he has made no decision on his post-congressional career. "I don't know what the future holds for us," he said. "A lot of options, hopefully, will be available."

But the timing of his departure fueled speculation that Mr. Lott, 66, was leaving to join the parade of former lawmakers who turn to lobbying to cash in on their experience and connections.

An ethics bill passed by Congress and signed by President Bush this year doubles, to two years, the "cooling off" period that senators must wait after leaving Capitol Hill before they can lobby their former colleagues. House members balked at lengthening their own turnaround time, leaving their waiting period at one year.

Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen said he wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Lott could fetch up to $2 million a year as a lobbyist.

"Someone like Trent Lott, who not only is one of the most influential members of the Senate but also knows how to work with his Democratic colleagues, will fetch a premium price on the lobbying market," he said.

Mr. Lott said the new rules didn't play "a big role" in his decision.

"I've talked to my former colleagues. They say that a lot of what you do anyway is involved with consulting rather than direct lobbying," he said.

Instead, he said he and his wife decided that "it's time for us to do something else." He said he considered retiring in 2006 but decided to run because his state was struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina and would need federal help. Mr. Lott's Pascagoula home was destroyed in the 2005 storm.

He said that after a Thanksgiving dinner with 30 members of his family, including grandchildren, he decided he also wanted to spend more time with them.

"So being able to leave on a positive note, hopefully; being able to spend more time with my family; being able to do some other things with my life; being able to open the door for another, younger person to have the experiences I've had -- all of that seems to make sense to me right now," he said.

The GOP departures have been a blow to Republican hopes of regaining their majority. With Mr. Lott's departure, the GOP must defend 23 seats next year compared with 12 for Democrats.

"The frustrations of minority status are hard to take, especially after you've had real power in the majority," said John J. Pitney Jr., a former staff member at the Republican National Committee who teaches government at California's Claremont McKenna College.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said that once Mr. Lott resigns, he will appoint a successor to serve until an election is held next year.

Republican Reps. Charles W. "Chip" Pickering and Roger Wicker are considered possible successors.


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